Get Intentional About Playing and Moving

Are you suffering from circumstantial depression?

Are you too tired to move?

Too worn out to play?

Or maybe you never learned to play as a child?

Some seasons of our lives, we just don’t feel like moving.

Why get intentional about moving and play?

One thing we have to get intentional about is playing and moving. We moms can get so caught up in the doing, that we forget about being. I’m not talking about vegging on Netflix or Amazon. I’m talking about intentional play for you and your children. Play builds brains, fuels logic, and gets bodies moving.

Play Therapy was developed in the 1970s to help families learn how to do intentional play with their children. It’s an important part of parenting. It stimulates brains and the relationship part of the playing grows the brain. Did you know that? Relationships grow the brain. So, the play I’m talking about is interactive.

  • A walk on the trail picking up nature and identifying it together.
  • A tea party.
  • Playing with Play doh.
  • Archery practice.
  • Board games.

All of these activities are work for children. We all have jobs. A child’s job is to find out how the world works -what the physical laws of nature are, how relationships work, how to get along. how to win, how to lose, how to build character.

These are all done through play/work. 

Have you ever thought of play this way before?

I’m not talking about “go to your room and play by yourself.” There’s a place for that. In fact, kids are more willing to play by themselves after their emotional tank is full. We mom are the gas that fuels their tank. If you have boys, the last sentence should hit your funny bone. We co-regulate with our kids, we teach them how to play.

YOu’re never too old to Play

Some of us don’t know how to play well as adults, because no one taught us or we think we are too old for play. We’re never too old to play. It’s okay. We can have fun. We can make a mess. Remember Moms, we are the boss and the employee. If the boss says we can have a water fight, we can. Then the employee can clean it up ( that’s us too).

One year, we had moved to a new town and didn’t know anyone. I was suffering some of my own circumstantial depression and God told me to do something fun with each child every day. It was hard. It was fun. We grew closer that year as a family, more than any other time.

We had squirt gun battles, game nights, roller blades on the driveway. Hiked. Biked. Did scavenger hunts at Cabela’s. 

The point is, don’t wait to want to. Do it when you don’t feel like it.

Moving.

Mamas, we have to move. We do a lot of moving with babies, laundry and dishes, cooking and the like, but with all of our servant appliances, we don’t work as hard as Moms of the past used to. We can easily become couch potatoes in between jobs. Couch potato-ing makes us feel sluggish. Our lymph nodes fill with toxins that don’t drain without proper exercise. We get headaches, backaches and cranky attitudes. We need to move. Guess what, it takes the investment of time and energy. You can do it! You can! Find an accountability partner. If you want to see your children grow up, graduate, get married, and have children, you have to start working on moving today. Not some day when you have the time. Now is the time to move and play.

Movement Has Been Replaced By A Sedentary Lifestyle – Why Kids Need Play!

When I was growing up, I played outdoors a lot. We didn’t have a television because my mom thought it would rot our brains out.  I know that is extreme, the point was we filled our time with going outside, being creative and playing in the creek. There was not much time for being sedentary in my family. We played outside together, worked together, played long board games and my sisters and I made up lots of dances in the living room (and made mom watch our performances). What I didn’t know is that my parents were building my brain and giving me a healthy lifestyle.

How things have changed.

“A UK survey conducted by the National Trust found that modern children spend half as much time outdoors as their parents did, despite the fact that 96% of the parents surveyed felt it was important for kids to have a “connection to nature.””-www.theatlantic.com/magazine

Children need to play outside. It’s one of the building blocks of brain development. When kids play outside, they learn cause and effect. They test their limits. The first physical science experiments happen in our own backyards-

  • when a child throws a rock in the stream and the water smacks him in the face.
  • when a child jumps from a swing and feels the jarring in his knees.
  • when he climbs a tree and falls two feet.
  • when he builds a dam and stops up the water in the stream

These are all brain builders. A child who has time to test his limits, build, create and pretend is growing the logic portion of his brain.

Play helps children teach themselves to regulate their emotions.

“University of Denver researchers Elena Bodrova, Carrie Germeroth, and Deborah J. Leong found that children teach themselves to regulate their emotions and think before they act when they play. For example, if a child is pretending to be Olaf from Frozen, they may pretend they’re melting when they come inside or insist that they like warm hugs. In each case, they consider how their actions will correlate with how Olaf should act in a given situation.”- Whitbyschool.org

If anyone has ever played make believe with a child, you know that kiddos play out relationships. They play Mom, Dad, sister, brother, super heroes, soldiers, or fill in the blank. My eldest used to ask me to play with her. She just told me what to say and I said it while her character was the star of the show (kind of like her). This is one of the ways kids figure out relationships. Often we hear children playing with the same words they hear us using -“It’s okay, mom is here” or “If you do that again you are in trouble”.

Play gives children a chance to practice what they’re learning.
– Fred Rogers

The Scientific Re-do.

When children have had trauma in their lives and struggle with regulation, play can help fill in the gaps missed in brain development. Organized play with a point can help. Acting out a scenario the right way and the wrong way helps a child form new pathways in his brain. This is a non threatening way of doing a re-do. This can be done with puppets or just acting it out. Try acting out the wrong way to ask for something and then the wrong way. Kids definitely enjoy the wrong way, they may giggle, but the right way will stick!

Scientists have recently determined that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain - unless it done with play, in which case it takes 10-20 repetitions._ - Dr. Karyn Purvis.png

Scientists have recently determined that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain – unless it done with play, in which case it takes 10-20 repetitions.” – Dr. Karyn Purvis

Movement is Important.

Movement in play, indoors and outdoors are part of the pathway to healthy brain development. What a video game and screen time can’t do is amplify time, they simply spend it.

“Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it.” Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods.

Organized play can teach skills and create a new synapse in the brain quicker, more efficiently and with more smiles than just going through the motions. While it’s tempting to fill time with screen time, remember you can’t get that time back. It’s spent on something that doesn’t have a great return. Educational show are great, but actually doing activities together -indoors or out- produce a greater reward.

*This is part of a Back to Basics Series! If you missed the beginning, start here or catch up the podcast here.

 

 

 

3 Things to Improve Preschool Handwriting

The past week, I’ve had two different people ask if a child’s handwriting sample was appropriate for their age, both for children under five. Both times, the handwriting seemed either right on track or a little advanced. I don’t fault the mothers for asking– it shows good initiative that they are making sure their child isn’t falling behind, is capable of keeping up with their peers, and is advancing at a good rate skill-wise.

That said, I’d like to reassure moms everywhere– handwriting is not an indicator of comprehension. Even kids with fine motor delays can be doing well in letter and number comprehension and lag in handwriting. Current research is actually finding that pushing kids to academic seat work does not improve later academic performance and may even harm it. This article from The Washington Post, in review of a book by Stephen Camarata, notes that delaying public kindergarten by a year has a positive impact on elementary education.

The answer isn’t to stop preparing kids for academics. The answer isn’t to give up handwriting, math, science, or reading. The answer is to prepare appropriately. If your child enjoys working in handwriting or school workbooks, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! Go for it! If your child is dragging her feet and reluctant to sit down and work, then don’t push it. Your child isn’t “behind.” You can still encourage learning without paperwork and you can foster a love of learning without teaching them to dread school.

Introducing concepts early is a great idea, but you can do this through play and conversation and reading books– point out letters and numbers around you, count toys animals as you add them to a barn, count blocks as you stack them, group sets of Cheerios and add them before eating, talk about how many are left as you eat. And if you want to prepare your child for handwriting success, here are a few things to try:

  1. Play-Doh.
    Whether you buy it at the store or make it from scratch, spend time with Play-Doh! This is sensory play that my kids are often on their own for– I do not sit and make elaborate creations for them. They figure out how to make their own stuff after I’ve demonstrated a few basic shapes. But I will sit down with them and help them make letters. Form some ropes and shape letters freehand and help them do the same. You can also print out some play-doh mats and laminate them or put them in sheet protectors. Talk about the letters and the sounds as you make them. Let your child’s interest dictate how long you work. My personal recommendation is to always encourage/stay working for one letter past the “I’m done” point. When they say “I’m done,” or start to lose interest, verbally encourage, “Let’s do just one more,” and then do one more. You’re strengthening their attention span and retaining their trust. You’ll lose it and their interest if “one more” always means “five more.” For reference, at three and five years old, my kids can usually handle anywhere from one to ten letters at a time.
  2. Stringing Beads
    While Play-Doh works on letter recognition and hand strength, stringing beads or tracing shapes with yarn (we find ours at the Dollar Tree, $1 for five to six shapes and two strings) will help with eye-finger coordination and muscle control. This is something you can take in a bag with you to play with while waiting for appointments or sitting in church, for the cardboard shapes. Beads are a little messier and might require more supervision. If you have chunky wooden ones, you can use a dry erase marker to put numbers or letters on them and practice stringing them in order or just reading them as you string them.
  3. Mazes
    This is the only one on this list that might actually require a pencil or crayon. Find or make some simple mazes, varied depending on skill level, and start by finger-tracing the path without a writing utensil. Graduate to using a pencil or crayon. And while the market is awash with chunky “preschool” pencils, tiny fingers benefit from tiny tools to learn how to hold a pencil properly. Buy golf pencils or sharpen regular ones down to golf-pencil size to give your preschooler a small, light tool to work with as they write.

Try these things to work on handwriting and don’t stress too much about handwriting ability yet, if your preschooler is five or under. You can keep working and developing, and extreme frustration or dread might be a sign that something is off, but for the most part, developing handwriting skills at this age isn’t learning to write letters. Some kids are really eager to learn that and will thrive even with early introduction. But reluctance doesn’t necessarily mean they are behind. Right now is the time to lay a good muscle and comprehension foundation for handwriting through play and simple activities. In our household, these activities are not done in addition to seat-work handwriting for preschool every day– most of the time, these activities are handwriting for the day.

So take a deep breath. Get ready to sing the alphabet. And have some fun!

 

When you have to ask your child, “Have you been drinking your water?”

I couldn’t go on the field trip that day. I sent my son along with some friends. I packed a water bottle and lunch for him. It was going to be a scorcher. And then,… I worried. I had to be somewhere else that day and all I could think of was my son. Did he drink anything? Did he eat? I’m not an overprotective, helicopter Mom. I’m a realistic one. I know my son. He will save his water so he “has it for later.” He will save his food because he’s “not really that hungry right now”. The sad truth is, he doesn’t know how to self regulate. He doesn’t recognize his body’s own needs. He doesn’t have a signal that his body is thirsty or hungry.

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Why doesn’t my son recognize these needs and meet them? Why doesn’t he self regulate? It all stems from neglect in his first year and a half of life. Neglect impairs the brain. It stops the brain from healthy growth. The effects of neglect are worse than those of abuse. Ignoring a child (and not attaching) is more damaging than not feeding the child.

When a child is attaching normally in infancy, the parents regulate for him. mother covers him when he is cold, feeds him when he is hungry, changes him when he wet, etc.. Eventually, the child begins to self-regulate. He recognizes the need to eat and asks for food. He recognizes thirst and asks for a drink. He grabs a blanket or sweater when he is cold.

The neglected, hurt child does not, CANNOT, recognize his own needs. This is why my son does not drink his water on field trips or eat his lunch. A hurt child needs his parents to regulate for him. Here’s the hard part: we parents may be judged for telling our teen to eat and drink while we are on a field trip. We may be viewed as controlling or the helicopter parent especially from those who believe that kids will naturally work these things out (and they usually do if they haven’t been neglected).

I have one thing to say: we adoptive parents have to get over it!  It doesn’t matter what other people think about our parenting skills. Our job is to keep these kids alive and give them the parenting THEY need, not the parenting their peers need. Take it from someone who knows. My kids have had some close calls because I tried traditional parenting here and there and hoped my children would catch on to what their peers were doing. I hoped they would drink water when everyone else did or eat when everyone else did. Didn’t happen. I had teens on multiple occasions spend all day in the hot sun at a picnic and not drink or eat anything only to come home sick at the end of the day, dehydrated. I once got a call from a friend who had one of my kids thirteen hours away at Disney world. My teenage daughter was very sick and she didn’t know what to do. “Did she drink anything today?” “Well, she carried a water bottle around all day but I didn’t ever see her drink out of it.” She was dehydrated. I called it. My friend made her drink several Gatorades and I gave her husband, a doctor, permission to put an IV in her if he deemed necessary. A few hours later, my daughter was back to her good-natured self.

Dr. Karen Purvis says that hurt children walk around in a dehydrated state most of the time. Our bodies are seventy percent water. Water gives our brains the electrical energy for brain function.

“Just as an automobile needs fuel and motor oil to run properly, a child requires nutritious food and an optimum flow of neurotransmitters to keep brain circuits operation smoothly. A shortage of nutrition or neurotransmitters can disrupt the nervous system causing behavioral and thinking disturbances.”- The Connected Child

Where do we go from here? You teach your older kids who may never receive the hunger or thirst signal properly to have some strategies for life. When my youngest daughter started her first part-time job, she forgot to eat or drink all day. And I noticed the symptoms of dehydration. Muscle cramps, dizziness, loss of balance, serious stuff! So, we worked out a plan. She began taking water, Gatorade and food with her to work. She sipped her water all day. She ate peanut butter sandwiches on break whether she felt like it or not. A few years later, she still doesn’t recognize her body signaling thirst, but she does recognize the signs of dehydration. The other morning she stumbled in my room with some serious leg cramps.

“You know what I’m going to ask you, right?”

“Have you been drinking your water?”

“Yes, and go eat a banana!”

If you have a kid you can’t take anywhere

Do you have kids that you feel like you can’t take anywhere? You have to go some places, like the grocery store or church or the bank, but you dread it. Other optional places, things you enjoyed before you had or adopted That Kid, like the library and restaurants and shopping, you just skip altogether.

Maybe you were expecting it, maybe you knew you were adopting an older kid who might have issues. Maybe it took you by surprise, this strange, hyper child. You just know that once, you were an adult who breezed through errands and now that you have That Kid, you’ve become That Mom– the one whose mouth is set in a grim line, fighting back tears or anger, while this little human that you are responsible for literally sprints away from you to grab fruit out of the produce bins. You can’t leave. You’ve left twice this week already. You have no food at home.

Once, you could meet a friend for coffee but now you drink your coffee cold, in the car, if it hasn’t spilled yet, because the entire restaurant trip was a game of How Many Times Can I Stand on the Seat and Yell About Things I Can See. The one time you went to the library, all the books from an entire shelf were dumped on the floor and he dropped to the ground to scream when you told him he had to whisper.

Clearly, your best option is to have everything you can delivered to the house and give up on friendship until you can drop the kid off at his freshman dorm. Maybe you even have Those Kids instead of just one.

There are many ways to address behavioral problems and today we’re talking about addressing those through play. Whether your child is four or eight, bio or adopted, expectations can heighten frustration for both parent and child. If you have a child who is purposefully and actively being disobedient, that’s another issue– but a kid with sensory issues or traumatic past might honestly have no idea how to go to the grocery store. Last week, I talked about using little toys to work through this with younger kids, but an activity with a wider age range is role play!

For ten minutes today, your bookshelf is the library. Your dinner table, a fancy restaurant. Your dinner prep, a grocery store of cabinets. Your story time, a church pew. You pick the setting. You direct the kids. You clearly and simply narrate what is happening and enforce rules, here at home when redirection or correction isn’t disruptive to others or pointless to an overwhelmed child. Include all your kids and let them model behavior for each other!

Make it fun! Get bags for “library books” and pretend to scan your cards. Make someone the librarian. Use shopping bags for groceries, make a dinner menu for your restaurant and hire a kid or husband as a waiter.

Then stick to the rules. Whisper at your pretend library, stay seated until everyone is finished with dinner, walk with groceries and only pick up items when instructed to.

It’s a game but it’s teaching expectations. It’s working through issues intentionally, rather than waiting until you’re in the moment and helpless. Then, when issues do arise in public, That Kid can be reminded, “Remember, we practiced this. I know this place smells weird to you, but let’s just pretend we’re playing that same game again.”

Playing through situations will feel silly, but the chance for practice and verbal instruction together might open the doorway for conversation that reveal some of the actual motivations behind a child’s behavior. We were just talking here on Sunday about practicing handshakes for church and discussing why our older boys might be reluctant, at church, to shake hands or say hello to others. Adam and I each had theories, but then our oldest just looked at Adam and said, “I don’t shake their hands because I don’t know their names.”

An offered hand at church has led to him squealing, hiding, clinging to our legs, or staring blankly. And he wasn’t being bad– we had no idea that he was trying his best to follow our rules about strangers! People he didn’t know were trying to grab a part of his body and his parents were just standing there– no wonder he had been freaking out! We got a chance to explain the difference between a stranger talking to him or grabbing him, and greeting an adult properly with mom or dad standing next to him. We’ll be practicing handshakes this week, too!

Is there anything you feel like your kids would benefit from “practice” in?

Three Opinions on Play dates

Wednesday I (Kathleen) wrote a post about play-dates for moms. If you missed it, you can catch up here.

Congratulations to Hollie Hart, winner of  a copy of Positive Adoption A Memoir and a ten dollar Starbucks gift card in our facebook contest.

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What do you think an encouraging play-date for Moms looks like?

Audrey:An encouraging play date for moms looks like a chance to talk and drink coffee and go on a walk. I love when I can chat and soak up some sunshine at the same time, especially since I tend to be bad about getting outside on my own. I like the occasional late night excursion, but since evenings are when my husband and I can hang out, it’s more stressful than encouraging if my weeks fill up with lots of nights out while he watches kids. I prefer play dates with one or two moms where we can talk while we let our kids play.

Kathleen: An encouraging play-date for me looks like a coffee date, lunch or sitting out on the deck with a friend/friends and being honest. I don’t do well with small talk. I am drained by it. I would rather talk with someone who is authentic and willing to empathize with me while I do the same for her. Complaining sucks the life out of play-dates. I think there is a definite divide between the state of sharing for caring and sharing to complain. I love to hear other mom’s stories and share my own. And I am sometimes prone to stop and pray.

Amerey: An encouraging play-date for Moms, is a play date that reassures Mothers that they are doing they best they can. A play date at another Moms house that shows that her house isn’t perfectly clean, or that her kids are not perfectly behaved. Also, a time were Moms can talk and be honest with each other about what they are experiencing in they’re mothering. Sometimes it is great to make something shiny, or bake something yummy just to lift your spirits.

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What do you think is the most encouraging thing a Mom friend could say to you?

Audrey:Because I personally struggle with empathy, an encouraging friend for me is one who is empathetic. When I tell her I’m having a hard day, what I need from a mom friend is not just “you’re doing a great job!” but for the gentle reminder about what my kids are probably feeling, too. It makes me look outside myself and what I’m feeling and focus on those around me instead, and that’s so much more encouraging and beneficial in the long-term than a pity party. I know the opposite is true for some moms– they need less empathy and a dose of tough love for their kids, with the reminder that it’s okay to take care of themselves. I think it depends on the person, and for me, finding an emotional opposite of sorts helps me be around people who encourage me.

It’s also important for me to be around people who share priorities with me. It doesn’t mean I can only be friends with those people, but when I’m weak and in need of encouragement or help, I trust advice and comfort more when it comes from people who share the same long-term goals and similar short-term ones.

Kathleen: I think the most encouraging thing another Mom can say to be is “Keep going. Don’t quit. You’re doing a great job!.” I have struggled for years to find my place in the body of Christ and serve with the gifts and talents that God has given me instead of being a people pleaser and latching onto whatever ministry happens to be floating by (which drains me). So, an encouraging friend is not upset if I am not following her God-sized dream and supports me while I follow mine. And she tells me so.

Amerey: The most encouraging thing a Mom friend could say to me is, “I do that too!”

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What do you think a discouraging play-date looks like?

Audrey:I’m most drained by play dates that focus on complaining. It especially makes me uncomfortable and discouraged when I’m around moms that disparage other moms or their own husbands. I don’t like being around people who encourage me to indulge in being selfish, and it can be exhausting if our priorities in life are totally different and I’m using emotional energy to keep up or not come off as judgmental just because I’m doing something in a different way. I’m not talking about small parenting decisions, mind you, but life priorities.

Second up, and I’m guilty of this too, I feel left discouraged and discontent when conversation revolves around having or obtaining the “right” material things. I’ve been noticing this more and more in myself recently and I don’t like it.

Kathleen: A discouraging play date is one that I don’t feel right at. I feel wrong. I feel as if my clothes are wrong, my calling is wrong, It’s the kind of play date when no one else in the room is like-minded and they let you know your way of thinking doesn’t match their’s and you should join them. These are the events that sent me running for the door.

I also agree with Audrey, I am not comfortable on play dates that become “bash your family” dates. I cannot stand the dates that make you feel as if you need to go to the mall and buy more, more, more because i don’t have the right material things. Play dates should be about relationships, not material things. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great creative crafting play date! These crafting dates are therapeutic if they are within my budget.

Amerey: A discouraging play date looks like a day were you are trying to encourage a mom or be encouraged and the other mother is being a negative Nancy no matter what is said or done.

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Who has been a great play-date friend and how did she accomplish it?

Audrey: I have a friend that’s up for play dates with the kids or play dates after bedtime and the flexibility is awesome. She’s willing to listen to me without always offering solutions, sometimes she just says, “That sounds so hard.” And that’s enough. But she also empathizes with my kids and notices things I might not and isn’t afraid to suggest things that are good even if they aren’t easy.   Number one: she asks how I’m doing and doesn’t freak out or shut down if I give an honest answer.
Kathleen: I have many great play date friends. They are the kind of friends I am not able to see for weeks or months, but when we get together, we just pick up where we left off. We share our lives. We pray for one another. We are honest with each other and tell the hard truths as well as the easy ones. We celebrate together. We cry together. We grieve together. A friend accomplishes this by being honest and self-sacrificing. As an adoptive Mom, I am careful what I share about my children from hard places. I must have a few safe friend so share with who know where I am coming from. Being part of a support group helps meet this need!
Amerey: My sister Audrey has been a great play date friend because she is helpful and honest with my struggles, she is always open with me about hers, and she has always been awesome in encouraging me that, “that’s normal!”
Please share your answers to these questions in the comments, you never know who you will minister to. Especially when you say  “me too”!

Play-dates for Moms

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There has long been a debate about ‘me’ time for Moms. During my early parenting years, it seemed to be frowned upon (by the church body as a whole). Then it seemed to come back around to the idea that it was okay for Moms to spend time away from the little ones, provided they strapped a heaping helping of guilt on their backs.

I’m thankful that there has been a paradigm shift for Moms. If you are a younger Mom, you probably heard of Mommy time in a positive light. And that is good. I’d like to delve a little deeper into the concept of ‘me’ time or play-dates for Moms.Young Moms are fed the important truth of put your own oxygen mask on first. This looks different at different stages of our parenting journey. With infants, it could be napping while the baby does or reading an encouraging book or watching a movie with hubby. It could be having your momma over for the day to help, to talk to or my favorite to craft or created something for the home. Play-dates morph into other Moms coming over with their little ones to play. Moms talk intermittently while kids play. Kids eat snacks and make friends. Then this practice moves to soccer field sidelines, birthday parties, libraries, parks and farmer’s markets. Sometimes, these snippets of conversation are enough to sustain a weary Momma’s soul. But, there is a catch.

A BIG CATCH.

These play-dates are only helpful if they encourage.

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Here’s an example and it all stems from the book of Genesis.

I love watching home renovation shows. I could watch them all day long. Here’s the catch: watching HGTV is great for me (in moderation) if it encourages me to do projects within my budget (physically, emotionally, spiritually) i.e. it inspires me to be a better keeper of my home with excellence I love Holley Gerth’s definition of excellence-

“Excellence is doing what you can, with what you have, where you are, as you are.”

When renovation shows lead to inspiration that translates into improvements within my scope then they are beneficial. This translates into work (perspiration) which leads to satisfaction and I say, “it is good” (Genesis 1:31)

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HGTV is not good for me when it leads me down the path of discontent. When I watch a show and suddenly feel my house is too yellow, too old, too outdated, then I need to switch the TV off. It’s not building me up, it is tearing me down and I eventually tear my family down when I complain to my husband that my home is not _____ enough. Eve had the same struggle before the fall and she had it all. She let the deceiver convince her that what she had wasn’t good enough. She “saw that the tree was good (suitable and pleasant)for food and that it was delightful to look at” and she ate it and gave it to her husband. And that act of discontent changed the world.

The same principle apples to play-dates for Moms. Will the time satisfy our desire for connection and inspire us or incite our lust and give us a contempt for our present circumstances? When play-dates become the bait in the comparison trap, we moms need to spare ourselves the trip (Click to TWEET). We all have those times we leave an outing feeling deflated instead of encouraged. We have all had or been those Moms who is quick to  one-up during conversations to make ourselves feel better or hide the truth to make ourselves look better. Truths like it took everything within you just to get out the door to this get together. Kids were whining and hanging on you, You got peanut butter rubbed on your pants and had to change. A kid accidentally spilled the cats water on your freshly blow dried hair (true stories, I don’t have to make this stuff up). We Moms need to be authentic with each other in order to encourage one another. (Click to TWEET) We adoptive Moms who are raising children from hard places need someone to be real with. Someone who won’t judge us and make us feel like we are “all wrong”. We need support and encouragement and the hope that things will be “all right”.

So what does an encouraging play-date look like for us Moms? Does it have to be fancy? Or can it be out on the weather-worn deck with cups of coffee. Does it have to always be dressed up in real clothes instead of yoga pants and t-shirts? Do any of these things matter? Friday, my girls and i will be answering these questions:

What do you think an encouraging play-date for Moms looks like?

What do you think is the most encouraging thing a Mom friend could say to you?

What do you think a discouraging play-date looks like?

Who has been a great play-date friend and how did she accomplish it?

Feel free to join us and share you answers in the comments!

A friend loves at all times, and is born, as is a brother, for adversity. Proverbs 17:17

Linking up with Kristin Hill Taylor and Three word Wednesday!

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Playing out our Problems

This is a Totally Broke Tuesday post by Audrey Simmons. You can read about the series here.

Did you know you can play with your kids as therapy and totally for free? No fancy equipment required. If you have a couple toys, you have enough already.

When my twins were toddlers, they went through a phase where they did not want to be dropped off at the church nursery. One boy in particular would wail and cling, after never having an issue with it before. The nursery staff was a rotating roster of volunteer parents and grandparents so it was hard to “talk up” getting to see one consistent figure in particular.

So at home, we broke out the toys.

I got out the few mistmatched Little People we’d gotten from thrift stores (construction workers, knights, Duplo figures) and sat down with the boys before church one morning. A few weeks, I even did it the Saturday before or throughout the week. (I wish I’d remembered to do it more than just at the last minute, sometimes!) We made a nursery room outline out of blocks some mornings, sometimes we just used my legs as our room divisions. Some Little People were nursery workers, some were the boys, some were the other kids they would see in the nursery, and some were me and Adam. We’d “walk” our little family up to the “nursery door” and the Mama and Daddy figures (voiced by me) would say, “Oh, I love you! We’ll be back soon!” and the boys (again, voiced by me) would cheerfully reply, “I love you! I’ll see you soon!” and then I’d act out them playing in the room and having a snack and then being picked up again to go home. The twins loved it.

They’d insist that I do it again, and again, and then they would take over, playing out the same scene and creating variations.

Within one or two times, the boy that had been so reluctant was cheerfully walking into the nursery and confidently waving bye. His reluctance resurfaced one or two times in the next few months and we’d just pull out the toys again and play the game as a reminder.

When you have a young child, who is only partially verbal, his comprehension might surprise you sometimes. But other times, especially if there are attachment issues, an inability to express what it is that he is having a hard time with can be frustrating for everyone. He isn’t “being bad,” he’s just having a hard time. And what do you do in this situation?

(As a caveat, I can’t recommend that you force a recently-adopted child to be okay with being dropped off in a nursery. If they want mama, they should have mama.)

Maybe your kid is hitting a sibling every. single. time. he gets frustrated. Maybe you try to go to restaurants and it’s a disaster. Maybe your daughter doesn’t want to sit in the cart at the grocery store but takes off running or pulls stuff off shelves if she isn’t restrained. Maybe your son has to go with you to a wedding next month. Maybe your kids are getting ready for a field trip to the zoo and the idea of actually having a good day seems like a joke, because all you can imagine is LIONS and CHILD WHO LOVES TO CLIMB FENCES while one of them would leave, smiling, with any stranger who happened to grab a hand.

Sure, there are situations where kids are definitely just straight-up being disobedient (and some of this works for that anyway), but think for a minute about those situations I mentioned and any that sprang to mind. How many of those are situations where you know how to behave and are just assuming your child should? How many of these are situations where a child has literally no idea what to expect, no frame of reference, no preexisting base for what being “good” is when a stressed parent hisses, “Just be good.”

When I was younger, we visited family in another state and the adults decided to take us tubing down a river. I kept asking, “Tubing? What do you mean tubing?” And my cousin was so excited. “Tubing is the best!” he told me, over and over. “You’ll love it!” I was imagining literal plastic tubes, clear and futuristic, that we’d been shot through in some kind of vehicle, like a subway car. I couldn’t understand why it needed to happen near a river and why it was anything more than a subway ride. I spent two days in baffled amazement, before we got to the river tubing rental house and got…inner tubes. Inflated swimming pool rings, to sit in, while we drifted down a calm river. It was a blast but 100% different from what I’d anticipated. When we got in the car at the end of the day, I demanded, “Mom, why didn’t you tell me it wasn’t like a subway?” But she hadn’t realized that my mental image was why I’d been so confused.

Now imagine that you’re two and have limited verbal skills. Or that you’re seven and have limited English skills, or limited emotional literacy (the ability to talk accurately about emotions).

And now, let’s play.

Get out whatever little people you have. Action figures, Little People, Duplos, Lego minifigs, dolls, whatever. You can even use plastic animals or plain blocks with different colors. Decide what situational behavior you want to address (grocery store? upcoming family event? restaurant? library?). Now get your kid(s).

Just say, “This is Otto. This is Mama. This is Ursula.” Establish the identities of your toys. Use your own names and whatever the kids call you. You’ve got them for a few minutes, while they’re just curious and excited that you’re playing with them (if they are dragging their feet and whining as slightly older kids, tell them they have to stick it out; if this is play therapy, treat it like therapy– some good things are not optional and a lot of times they’ll be willingly participating within minutes).

First act out what usually happens.

“Mama and Otto are going to the grocery store. We get in the car, we go vrooooom. We find a parking space and get out. Otto holds on to the cart quietly while Mama checks her list. Noooo, Otto, come back here. Hold on to the cart. When Otto runs away, Mama gets him back. This isn’t how we act in a grocery store! Oh, Otto is running away again? Now Mama must put him in the cart. Otto is throwing a fit. [Get dramatic if your kid does, haha!] Now Mama must take him to the car and leave. What a sad trip to the store! They did not get their food! Otto is sad, Mama is sad! What can they do?”

Now act out what should happen. Use the toys to show your child what a grocery store trip should look like. Maybe he’s overwhelmed by all the food choices, maybe he’s excited, maybe he knows he’s making you mad or stressed but isn’t totally sure what you want him to do differently. After all, you walk through the store and grab, what seems to him, totally random items you like to eat and put them in the cart. Same for restaurant behavior.

“Mama, Daddy, Otto, and Ursula are going to the restaurant. They wait for their last name to be called and then they sit at their table. The waitress brings silverware and we leave it alone on the table until we have food. We sit quietly and we talk, ‘How was your day today, Daddy?’ ‘What is your favorite color, Mama?’ ‘What is your favorite animal, Ursula?’ They bring the food. We eat together. Oh, Otto has to go to the bathroom! He asks, ‘Please take me to the bathroom,’ and waits for someone to hold his hand.” and etc.

If you are play-acting an event like a wedding or funeral or family gathering, something that hasn’t been an area of behavior problem in the past, just play out what will happen to develop appropriate expectations. Don’t worry about inventing “bad” behavior to play out consequences. Just model what you expect and what they can expect.

Play out these scenarios more than one time. Do them over and over again in the course of the weeks leading up to an event, or the evening or morning before a trip to the store, to the restaurant, the library, church, the mall, the DMV.

The goal of play therapy is not to have perfect children. Of course you’ll still have to deal with stuff in the moment. But the goal is to prepare a child for a new, unusual, or problematic situation and equip them with a mental framework to choose how to act instead of being ruled by an emotion. I just started play-acting this morning with my toddler daughter, who has gotten into the habit of hitting or pulling hair every time an older brother tells her “no.” She has a consequence for being rough or violent, but that doesn’t remove the frustration she feels when a taller, bigger person tells her “no” and she doesn’t like it. So we play to learn how to handle that frustration in appropriate ways. Just “be gentle” isn’t cutting it with she’s overwhelmed with toddler emotion. It’s a fun game and it’s giving her something to do instead. Plus, Mom is playing with her, so that’s just awesome.

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Are their areas of your daily life you could apply this play therapy to? What situation will you act out this week?

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Jabberwocky

BY LEWIS CARROLL

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
      The frumious Bandersnatch!”

Source: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (1983)

I love this nonsense poem. It’s a fun poem to memorize because it sounds like nonsense when you begin reciting it and then it makes perfect sense when you have it down pat.

When some of my children were working on memorizing this, we watched YouTube videos for pronunciation and then read along with them until we got the hang of the correct pronunciation. As Audrey said yesterday, the physical laws of the universe are like this nonsense poem to children who have neurological development issues caused by neglect, FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) and are on the autism spectrum. I call these capital letter syndromes. Many children from hard places have them. The laws of nature are nonsense to them. In order to learn the laws in their proper form, the must have repeated experiences with them. Over and over and over.

A common misconception of these children is that they are in control of the laws. They can decide what they can and cannot do and because of this faulty thinking, a child will think he can ride a bike perfectly the first time he gets on it because he wills it to be so. He thinks the same about any outdoor endeavor: climbing trees, rollerblading, swimming, etc. If he attempts these things and falls the first couple seconds, he may erupt in a violent outburst and determine that he will never do ________ (fill in the blank) because he is not good at.

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The first few times I saw this type of behavior in my kiddos, I was baffled. Some kids threw skates, bikes, stormed out of pools, kicked trees, and I scratched my head. Then I remembered: control. Hurt children want to control everything and they think they do. In that sense the world is static. They want to rollerblade and they think they can because they will it to be. When he puts on those roller blades for the first time and falls, he assumes there is no changing it. That is just the way it is. There is no way he has the power to change it or otherwise he would have already. This sort of thinking seems irrational to the healthy child who knows there are laws of nature and that learning a new thing has a steep curve. The healthy child has been practicing new things his entire life. He makes progress in areas of physical and mental development. The hurt child is stuck.

So what do you do? Audrey gave some great suggestions in yesterday’s post. I would add  the answer to that old joke my brother loved pester people with when we were kids:

Pete and Repeat were in a boat. Pete fell out. Who was left?

Pete and Repeat were in a boat. Pete fell out. Who was left?

Repetition is the key to children from hard places learning the laws of nature. Each of these kids has to start at the beginning, even if it means working on smaller tasks of balance, floating and sinking, gravity experiments when their peers have those concepts down pat. In this area, assume nothing. Don’t think your eight year old knows that the solid form of water is ice. Don’t assume anything. Be willing to work out little experiments to show them.

When the child wants to give up after one try on roller blades, strap some on yourself, put up some orange cones and skate around in circles with him, encouraging him (firmly) and patiently to try it again. And again. I spent the warmer seasons of a year getting one of my kids around those cones on rollerblades (my leg muscles were awesome that year). There were tears, fits, objects were thrown (and it wasn’t me that time) and finally there was VICTORY. Cheers. Smiles. And that kid now whizzes past me at the skating rink.

Delayed or compromised neurological function is paired with developmental delays. A child who was kept in a crib for most of his toddlerhood will need years to catch up, not just months. These kids need the same sort of repetition their peers got at an early age. They need to fall and get up (at whatever age they are now) as many or more times as they would have as a toddler. These kids need to feel grass and rocks under their bare feet to know the difference. They need to climb and fall. Wreck a bike. And as we watch these repeated practices, we cheer them on. We encourage and firmly expect that they try again. Then we rejoice with them.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
      Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
      He chortled in his joy.
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TWWbutton200x200_zps62610d74On another note: I will be speaking at the CHEWV celebration this Saturday, May 16. Hope to see you there!  You can find out more HERE.